Those who have experienced mental health issues are often best equipped to assist another person in their recovery.
High quality, coordinated follow-up care has the potential to reduce suicide attempts by almost 20 per cent, but it doesn’t always require traditional, clinical treatment.
According to Tim Heffernan, mental health peer coordinator for COORDINARE South Eastern NSW, peer support workers have a better understanding of another person’s situation, due to their lived experience.
“Peer workers have that experience of mental health issues and of recovery,” he said.
“Our job is to work with people who are experiencing mental health difficulties and guide them and walk with them on their journey.”
Mr Heffernan’s journey with his mental health began in his early 20s, during the second year of his teaching career.
“My journey has been a long one,” he said.
“I have what’s called Bipolar One Mood Disorder, that results in some severe episodes of illness which require hospitalisation.”
But Mr Heffernan’s philosophy has always been focused on moving forward.
“I had a 20 year career as a teacher and I’ve got two beautiful daughters,” he said.
“It’s all about moving forward despite having a mental illness, it shouldn't affect your whole life or diminish your life in any way.”
Mr Heffernan said people with mental illnesses should not be stigmatised or discriminated against.
“These stigmas mean people often find it difficult once they’ve had a mental illness to get back into work, or study or their lives,” he said.
“Now it’s not because they can’t, but because the opportunities aren’t there.”
That’s where peer work comes in. These people are vital in the recovery of mental health issues or suicide attempts as they offer advice that the average person, or clinical support worker can’t.
“Its a new workforce in mental health, but it’s probably the workforce we need most to achieve significant improvements in mental health,” Mr Heffernan said.
Support from a peer worker can be just as effective as seeing a psychologist, but this support and compassion could also come from a mate or family member.”
Research director of Life Span Fiona Shand said support from family and friends was also important in mental health recovery.
“Support can be offered in different ways and by talking with the person you can identify what would be useful for them,” she said.
“It might include taking them to appointments, going to the gym together, assisting with household duties ir even cooking some meals.”
If you’d like to talk to anyone about the issues raised in this article call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Mental Health Line on 1800 011 511.